Is this a new dawn for West Indian cricket?
Among the major long-term phenomena witnessed by the world of cricket is the steady decline of the West Indian cricket team. The world’s best team from the 70s to the early 90s, the team suffered a steady decline which, from peak to trough, seemed rather steep.
A few false dawns might have dotted the timeline, like the Champions Trophy triumph in 2004, but these were so feeble that it was clear to all pundits, whether respectable or of the armchair variety, that a sustainable recovery had not been sighted.
That was until the 2012 T20 World Cup. But more on that later.
Let us first address the question of what ailed West Indian cricket in the first place. How could a team so dominant become the whipping boys of world cricket? The answer lies, unsurprisingly, in the economics of West Indian cricket.
If one would twirl one’s table-top globe, one would find the West Indies, a group of islands, located not too far away from the United States of America. This proximity slowly but surely lured the best West Indian athletes towards the NBA, USA’s ultra-lucrative basketball league.
In comparison, cricket did not pay well. Not nearly as much. And that was that.
It is easy to spot the difference between the height of the West Indian fast bowlers of yore, who were naturally gifted in generating pace, and the newer crop, who are not in the same league.
It was not solely a question of height. The better athletes – the quicker, faster, more alert ones – were intent on plying their trade in the NBA and to the detriment of West Indian cricket.
Apart from the NBA, track and field athletics provided another option away from cricket and for the same economic reasons. Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake are global stars whose income from endorsements would be enviable.
It is interesting to note their first love was cricket and both have recently announced their intention of playing (part-time) in one of the T20 leagues going around in the cricketing circles today. The reason why they chose track and field over cricket is well understood.
Now, let’s come to the factors behind the revival of West Indian cricket. The reason, once again, is economic in nature. The proliferation of the T20 leagues in various cricketing nations has meaningfully changed the compensation levels, both actual and potential, for West Indian cricketers. And the impact is finally being felt.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is the world’s most lucrative cricket league and West Indian cricketers are welcome here. Chris Gayle is the one example that perhaps explains it all. The man fell out with the West Indian cricket authorities over pay issues and resurfaced in the IPL.
Gayle invested everything he had into the IPL and displayed the best cricket he’s ever played. It was nothing but a cold, hard example of how money can motivate. Gayle is barely interested in playing Test cricket, and he has made that clear publically, but he will continue to give his best while playing T20 for the West Indies for reasons that are very practical.
Firstly, if he breaks all ties with the West Indian cricket authorities permanently, he runs the risk of not receiving the mandatory no-objection certificate (NOC) from the national cricket board to be eligible for playing in the IPL.
Secondly, in order the remain firmly in the mindspace of the selectors of IPL teams, he has to showcase his best form in international T20. The better the opinion such selectors have of Gayle, the more stratospheric his pay will be during the next IPL auction.
What’s more, stellar performances in international T20 will attract the attention of Indian brand managers, who have found international cricketers increasingly acceptable as endorsers.
An interesting snippet coming out the 2012 T20 World Cup was that the West Indies cricket team was the second favourite team of the sub-continental fans after, of course, their respective national teams. Something the brand managers would have included in their notes.
So, let’s be clear and honest, it’s all about T20 cricket at the moment. I have discussed, in an earlier article, how the IPL has been deleterious for Indian Test cricket. But, clearly for the West Indies, T20 is the epicentre of their revival as it is T20 that throws up economic incentives for West Indian athletes who have a choice to make.
The result is that West Indies now has an enviable line-up in the shortest format of the same. Apart from Chris Gayle, they also have other IPL stars like Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Dwayne Bravo, Marlon Samuels and others, such that it is the proverbial case of an embarrassment of riches.
Not surprisingly, West Indies have gone on to lift the 2012 T20 World Cup and importantly, it does not look like a flash in the pan.
One would expect West Indies to remain a force to reckon with in T20 cricket as they will often end up bludgeoning their opposition into submission. They may not win all T20 tournaments, as the nature of format is such that outcomes are relatively fickle, but West Indies will retain their new-found aura of a dominant T20 outfit.
To what extent it all affects West Indian Test cricket remains to be seen, but the current scenario definitely opens up the possibility of a revival in Test cricket as well, for various reasons.
Firstly, sport, like many walks of life, has a lot to do with confidence, believing in one’s abilities. If West Indies do well in T20, they could possibly develop the confidence they need for other forms of the game.
Secondly, all forms of the game are inter-related to some extent or the other. Hence, the West Indian cricketers, notwithstanding Chris Gayle, would feel the importance of doing well in Test cricket as well.
A strong West Indian cricket team is good news for world cricket in more ways than one.
For starters, it makes world cricket more competitive and secondly, it also makes it more spectator-friendly as the West Indian joie-de-vivre, Gangnam-style dance and all, adds a new dimension for worldwide audiences.
Cricket fans, for their part, should hope their revival extends to Test cricket as well.